Updated: Nov 9
As Urban Uprising celebrates 10 years of introducing disadvantaged young people to the physical and mental benefits of climbing with an anniversary climb, the charity’s co-founder Stu Green reflects on the journey so far.
In August 2013, Edinburgh-based climber Stu Green launched what has become a major charitable organisation in the UK outdoor sector.
Frequent visits to Rio de Janeiro through his work as a pilot introduced Stu to the local climbing community, where a grassroots project was introducing children from the favelas (shanty towns) to the sport. Stu began by bringing donated shoes, ropes and other climbing material from the UK to support the initiative, but soon became overwhelmed with gifted kit and recognised a need for monetary funding.
“I wanted to set up a UK funding wing, because that's what was really slowing their progress,” Stu said. “We took advice about how to go about setting up a charity and we ended up financially supporting the Rio group.” And so the registered charity Urban Uprising was born.
The climbing wall group The Climbing Academy, which has two centres in Glasgow, suggested that they could host a similar project to the one in Rio in conjunction with Urban Uprising, by providing fully-funded climbing taster sessions at their facilities.
“It was obvious to me early on it was a niche that had never been filled,” Stu said. “I couldn’t see a similar organisation in existence in the UK and that was an impetus in itself to try and make something of it.”
10 years and over 450 sessions later, their decision to launch in the UK has paid off. Over 500 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds across the country have benefitted from giving climbing a go, assisted by a group of over 150 active volunteers across ten-week blocks of taster sessions.
“I don’t think there's anything wrong with other sports or that climbing is maybe better than other sports, but I think it lends itself particularly well to developing confidence, resilience and physical and mental health,” Stu said. “And like other sports, it's got that social sense of a safe community, a community of like minded individuals.”
Stu knew first-hand from his own climbing experience and from witnessing the holistic progression that the children in Rio had made that climbing can be a tool for mental and physical health.
“There’s the obvious analogy of climbing up and the sense of achievement when you get to the top, and learning to deal with failure when you don’t,” he said. “Rather than being a personal challenge, it’s you against the wall or rock, rather than you competing with another individual. There are many aspects that make it particularly good at developing young people’s characters.”
But climbing’s status as a relatively niche sport with some tricky barriers to entry - be they personal or societal - means that many young people from underprivileged backgrounds can experience a poverty of opportunity. “That's where we come in, to take away those obstacles to their continuing that sport or participating in the first place,” Stu added.
After two and a half years of fundraising and laying the foundations for a dependable UK-based programme, the charity finally ran their first session in Glasgow. “I remember being relieved and also recognising at the same time that it was a profound moment,” Stu said.
Initial funding efforts to support indoor climbing taster sessions involved the sale of colourful t-shirts with the charity’s iconic fox logo. As the t-shirts became popular and sprung up in climbing walls and crags across the Central Belt, more and more young people were able to learn the ropes in Urban Uprising sessions.
“It's a very difficult thing to measure how the sessions affect somebody’s confidence,” Stu said. “We're not trying to make any of the young people in our sessions into climbers if they don’t want to, we’re simply helping to increase their mental resilience and physical wellbeing and show them something that they might otherwise have difficulty gaining access to.”
The young people involved in the projects come from a diverse array of backgrounds. Many are from low-income households, face social inequalities and struggle with physical, mental and educational difficulties. Stu and his team work in conjunction with other charities and youth organisations to connect with a diverse range of identified at-risk groups to target those who might benefit the most from sessions.
“When we started out, finding enough young people was a concern of ours,” he said.
“We thought it could potentially be a bit of a challenge, but then it became apparent that - sadly - there is no lack of young people in the UK who might benefit from our projects.” From the charity’s humble beginnings in Glasgow, the projects later put down roots in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Cambridge and Bristol.
Major partner organisations include the Prince’s Trust, Edinburgh Young Carers and many local schools. “There are many different organisations and when we go to a new city, we see whether their values align with ours and whether we can work together,” Stu said. “We used to go looking for other people to work with, but now it’s more of a 50-50 scenario, wherein people will approach us as much as we approach others.”
Recent sessions have involved a group of refugee children from Ukraine who have settled in Edinburgh following Russia’s invasion.
The growth of the charity was accelerated by the employment of paid and professional staff members early on - a “crux point” which marked a shift from an amateur organisation to a professional one, as Stu describes it - and smart management of operations through systems evaluation to increase efficiency. There were times when the workload seemed untenable, he admits, but the team were motivated by a determination not to let their young people down.
“When you put five years of work into something, then you know you really don't ever want to give up, particularly when you recognise that it’s a good idea and it is clearly benefiting people,” Stu said. “It feels like you’re wading through treacle and not getting a lot done, but actually you’re sowing the seeds for a robust organisation in the long term, so we're starting to bear fruit from that.”
Since 2013, the charity has experienced a seven-fold increase in the number of participating young people, bolstered by a ten-fold increase in the number of volunteers and the employment of three full-time members of paid staff.
“Climbing has a very strong culture of giving up your own time for the benefit of others and I’m always humbled by the number of volunteers and their commitment,” Stu said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we have double the number of paid staff in a few years to cope with the workload.”
A team of four top climbers also serve as Urban Uprising ambassadors, helping to inspire young people and promote the work of the charity on social media.
The majority of funds are provided by large and small grant giving organisations across the UK, while fundraising efforts through local club nights, competitions and other events have helped to top up the kitty and supplement t-shirt sales. Big brands such as Black Diamond and The North Face have also come on board to supply equipment and financial support. A goal for the future, Stu explained, is to attract more corporate sponsorship.
“We're looking at expanding the Taste-Climb-Repeat sessions with other elements, whether that's with soft skills rather than climbing activities, or parkour, plus facilitating more rock climbing courses outdoors and repeat sessions.”
Outdoor sessions are currently supported by the governing body Climb Scotland, Glenmore Lodge and Mendip Activity Centre. “We want to get the young people outside as much as possible," Stu said. “It adds another element and it’s free, so if we can teach young people how to use that space responsibly and safely, then that's great.” The new partnership with the BMC that Urban Uprising has will hopefully help further in the area also.
Eventually, Stu would like to see several projects in most large cities in operation, while filling some “obvious gaps” in urban climbing hubs such as Manchester, Sheffield and other locations.
“We’ve spent these last five years really proving our product, now I think we're ready to make those next steps,” Stu said. “We’ve remained self-sceptical, so we’re constantly checking that what we're doing is working and how it's working, why it's working and whether we can do anything better. We know how to manage volunteers, we’ve elements to expand and I'd like to see more of those reaching more young people and more positive stories coming back.”
Additionally, Stu would like to see some young people become reengaged in the programme in some capacity. “I’d like to explore having young people involved in the managerial process, guiding where we go as an organisation so that we remain more in touch with what their needs are,” he said.
There have been many fundraising initiatives recently. To celebrate their 10th anniversary, Urban Uprising staff members and volunteers hiked ten peaks in the Lake District in August to raise funds for the charity which raised a massive £7,737. The fundraising continues and they still have a shortfall for funding all the programmes in 2024. You can help them reach their fundraising targets in various ways:
Buy raffle tickets for their Winter Raffle here. Great prizes to be won!
Donate through their website here.
Ask your workplace to partner with Urban Uprising. For info on this contact email@example.com
“Time has passed pretty quickly really,” Stu said, “but I’d like to think that in 10 years’ time from now that we'll be more of a household name within the climbing community.”
By Natalie Berry